Vol. 36 Issue 2 Reviews

Reed Evan Rosenberg: At The End of an Endless Stream

Cassette Tape, 2011, a/r 05; available from Accidie Records, 3866 Bentley Avenue, Unit A, Culver City, California, 90232, USA; http://accidierecords.com/; electronic mail: williammoranhutson@gmail.com.

Reviewed By Christopher Riggs
Middletown, Connecticut, USA

Recently, the underground cassette tape culture has experienced a revival of sorts. In its current guise, it has effectively become a dumping ground for sonic misfits that don’t fit into the established niches of the experimental music world. Paradoxically, the niche that this resurgence originally served, the noise scene, is being subverted by the very qualities of the obsolete medium of the cassette that created the underground culture to begin with: durability, portability, and the fact that cassette tapes are very inexpensive. Anyone can form a cassette label in 2012, and indeed, there are many. The spectrum of sounds released by these proprietors runs the gamut from mind-numbingly, derivative works to those that are wholly original. Unfortunately, the original works often get lost in the maelstrom of uploading one’s sounds to the virtual, and non-virtual, spaces of the contemporary tape label universe.
Reed Evan Rosenberg (b. 1986) is an electronic musician working in the greater New York area who has produced some intriguing work within this ambiguous, distributive space. The young composer’s Web presence reveals a willingness to freely wander over the dividing lines between noise, academic composition, and new media art. He accomplishes this through YouTube videos of do-it-yourself (DIY) rooftop performances with percussionist and electronic musician Richard Kamerman, electroacoustic compositions based on the Chirikov standard Map, and a recently completed streaming online sound installation with Kamerman, Eric Laska, and Jordan Topiel Paul entitled, Quartet With Pyramid Scheme (http://turbulence.org/Works/quartet/).

Rosenberg’s biography indicates that for each specific project on which he embarks, he programs his digital instruments in order to explore the areas of improvised electronic music, extreme computer music, and installation art. At The End of An Endless Stream, Rosenberg’s release on cassette tape on the California based Accidie Records, appears to fall into the category of “extreme computer music,” though sonically and conceptually it continues the rejection of the aforementioned divisions, a quality that seems inherent in the praxis of Rosenberg’s composer/artist collaborators.

The 40-min long composition is a through-composed work divided into two 20-min sides featuring short episodes of algorithmically derived (via Max/MSP) sonic nuggets that are as varied as they are aurally rich. Toward the beginning of Side A, alien landscapes snap and fizzle through cartoon music effects, such as a voice processed with wah-wah and “fuzz” distortion, or a series of descending clusters that pan rapidly and repeatedly from left to right.

There is a lack of human agency in these vignettes, as they sound like brief snapshots of large, static automatons. There’s nothing reminiscent of the slow sweep of an analog synthesizer, or turn of the knob on a no-input mixing board. But that hasn’t prevented Rosenberg from supplying his composition with salient content, a panoply of audio originality and detail, that would make any hacker of obsolete electronics, tape loop jockey, or homemade synthesizer builder quite pleased. Rosenberg hasn't just mastered the sonic content of the underground noise scene, and fed it through a complex mathematical system (an impressive enough feat). He has also managed to push the envelope of this genre into an uncharted terrain of trebly nuance. 

According to Rosenberg, each chunk of sound was taken from a larger piece created using Max/MSP. Sections were first extracted by Rosenberg and colleague Eric Laska, and then arranged into a formal structure that also included silences of various lengths. Despite the composer’s explanation and traditional use of compositional structuring, I can’t avoid hearing the work’s form as being arranged by a system as obscure and complex as those that created each individual section. The sections are punctuated by silences that carry the same unpredictable awkwardness that governs the individual sounds and phrases. For me, this raises the question: have the algorithms taken over Rosenberg’s brain to the point that even his intuitive, higher-level, compositional decisions operate in a way that are just as alien as the mathematically derived content?  Or better yet, has Rosenberg’s brain taken control of the laws of mathematics?  I hope so. 
Approximately twelve minutes into Side B of the tape, the composition shows its first teleological indulgence, with a section that slowly builds in volume and density until the piece ends. This is the largest section in At The End of An Endless Stream not interrupted by silences. Such a semi-traditional, dramatic ending is curious in a work wherein the lack of structural development is heard as a real strength. Toward the end of the work, Rosenberg introduces a bit of narrative. It is difficult to tell whether he simply wanted to throw a curve ball at the listener, or utilize a traditional form to signify that the piece is coming to a close.

In future compositions will Rosenberg allow the same processes that created such interesting episodes to control the overall form of his work? Will he be able to do so and create work that is as compelling as this one?  I’m very excited to see where he goes next.  Keep a close eye on Mr. Rosenberg.